Feature – Frenemies

Coaches can be our friends and enemies. How do we manage to have a more effective relationship with our counterparts on the field and court?

Frenemies

By Tim Sloan

was working a boys’ basketball game a few years back and the home team was getting shelled. They couldn’t shoot, pass, handle the ball or defend. By the third quarter, the margin was 30 points and I was standing in front of their coach, with whom I had a decent relationship.

“I’m telling you, Sloan — you mark my words: Next game, I’m only dressing seven players,” he promised.

“Really?” I responded, beginning a scan of the floor to pick out who he might have in mind.

“Yep. The rest will just have to start dressing themselves from now on.”

Now, that was a fellow who I’d seen chew up and spit out officials in the past. I’m not suggesting I have some kind of gift with coaches. There are others who snoot me out and seem to be buddies with some of my confreres. I often think about why that is and how to have more successful relationships with coaches. And in some places, like in Iowa, there’s more to gain from understanding because it’s a “recommendation” state: Coaches name officials whom they would like to see reffing playoff games. They aren’t asked why, only who. There are some officials who gel with some coaches and, statistically, the ones who get along get further ahead. What’s their secret?

Recently I asked a former coach, who is an assigner, to sum up what related refereeing to recommendations. He said it came down to general personality — a sense for the coaches and officials being in it together — and consistency of calls. That’s a short list, but the Holy Grail to most. We all strive for consistency, but the esprit de corps thing surprised me. How can we be in it together when our job is to do what’s best for the game and the coaches’ is to do what’s best for the team?

It’s all about relationships, and how you get by with coaches is a big part of that. I’m not saying graduating, cum laude, from Referee Charm School is a prerequisite for success; officials who overtly pander to coaches seldom get far. But learning how to empathize is important. When you understand how coaches think, it’s easier to know what annoys them or makes them comfortable with you. That’s all well and good. But it often contrasts with our style as officials: We call games a certain way and have standards, which mesh well with some coaches’ outlooks, but not others. With all that, there’s still a great middle ground, where accepting that there are some forces at work and then working proactively in response makes for more success as an official.

Let’s understand some basic things about coaches at the high school level. First, most are teachers. Next, few I’ve run into didn’t consider the job to be fulfillment of a significant ambition: They’re doing it because they want to and, with rare exceptions, were selected. Third, they work in school systems that pander to society’s demand for winners. Fourth, they are under demand to put time into their efforts to produce a competitive product against the resistance of family, profession, the limitations of players and their own stamina. Fifth (choose one), they either feel the love or the noose tightening. Finally, every one of them handles the pressure of success or failure differently.

My wife just handed me a coffee as I was typing and remarked, “Hmm: So, getting along with coaches is just like being married. … Are you going to be able to cut the lawn today?”

She is right! Some marriages click: The spouses are so alike they naturally interact in a way that is smooth and largely non-confrontational. For others, it takes work and the pair learns what annoys/enamors the other. They decide that some issues are better overlooked. And then there are The Honeymooners, who disagree on everything. Few enter marriage because they look forward to a life of discord. More likely, they lack the skills to manage conflict.

By that rationale, many good relationships with coaches might be accidental. That is, we don’t all comprehend that many relationships take work to work. If a coach and official see the game-related things the same way, few bad things happen. So, where I tend to reward teams that have good skills and can avoid violations, coaches who emphasize the same get along with me. If they coach aggressive play in the paint while I jump post players who sit on each other’s laps, we have a problem. One of us has to give in if the relationship is to be smoother. That creates a crisis, where two facts apply: We need the coaches more than they need us. The two of us have conflicting pressures: The coach (hopefully) likes his or her job and has some need to behave, train and mentor. And I have a binder of memos from the state admonishing me to be alert to, and penalize, various behaviors. So, how do we do our jobs and have more effective relationships with coaches?

Accept that the majority will never see everything the same way you do: It shouldn’t be surprising that many coaches will carry on more than you think is acceptable. It’s not about you! Not everything sung to us in burps requires a response. The best officials keep the peace with coaches by reacting to the message and not the delivery until the delivery interrupts the game.

Accept that it helps to give a little when the conflict is insignificant: Sense when coaches are trying to be sensible about a bad situation and you need to tag along: Team A has travelled 41 times by halftime and appears unable to help it. Team B has driven 60 miles through the snow and is growing tired of rehearsing their inbound plays. It hopes to be home by midnight. Think about relaxing your standard a little and serving the teams. Work with the coaches to become part of a solution. Heresy, I know, but many coaches respect that over rigid consistency; in that regard, you can all be in it together.

Accept that your style needs to be flexible: Some crews develop reputations for being the threesome-of-choice for certain games: If the last meeting was contentious, send this crew because they’ll clean it up. For the rest of us, the game is what it is: It’s played by two teams with strengths and weaknesses and, if it makes for a fair game, let them set their tone. Take charge to avert conflict, not create it.

The best officials advance not by being the best rules people, the best athletes or the most committed, although those are important. They get there by being the most successful. They take each game as it comes and respond to what they see.

Tim Sloan lives in Davenport, Iowa. He’s a former football and soccer college official who now works high school football, basketball and volleyball.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 3/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – The Unwritten Rules

Every official knows the importance of the rules of the game. Regardless of sport, there are some unwritten rules you should follow as well.

The-Unwritten-Rules

By the Referee editors

 

1. When you “think” you saw something, YOU DIDN’T.

There are times you will be focused on action in your coverage area but something on the farthest edge of your peripheral vision will draw your attention. “Gee whiz,” you’ll say to yourself. “That looked like a foul, but I didn’t see the whole thing. My gut says it was a foul. Better safe than sorry. I’m gonna call it.”

Missing a call is never a positive thing. But most assigners, coordinators and observers will tell you that failing to call something that did occur is more acceptable than calling something you aren’t absolutely positive happened.

Gut feeling is a valuable officiating tool. Many times your instincts will guide you in the right direction. But your eyes trump all. See what you call and call only what you see. Period.

2. The CAPTAIN is not always the team leader.

For whatever reason, the so-called team leader or “captain” can sometimes be anything but a player that will help you to defuse a situation and respond positively with other players during a game. That player can often be the one causing problems for you and others.

When that’s the case, make every effort to demote that captain. Tell the coach that you need another player to serve as captain because the current captain isn’t doing his or her job. Or tell the captain that he or she will no longer be serving as the leader for his or her team for that game because of his or her actions.

Just because a player attends a captains’ meeting before the game doesn’t mean that he or she will be the player with the best sportsmanship.

3. Keep the game MOVING.

There are few officials who want to be on the field or court for a really long game.

However, there are some games that are just going to be longer than others. That football game that features two teams that throw the ball on every down and have porous defenses can result in a 63-60 shootout that legitimately takes every bit of three hours to finish.

What is not acceptable is for officials to be the cause of a game going long. Do everything possible to make a dead ball live again or to get the clock running as soon as possible.

That doesn’t mean neglecting important duties or rushing teams. It does mean being efficient with recording substitutions or enforcing penalties, hustling to your next position and getting the next play started or the next pitch thrown.

4. Provide COURTESY to players when it’s needed.

While an official should strive to keep the game moving, there are times when you need to it slow down. A baseball or softball catcher works extremely hard during a game and that hard work generally keeps you from getting hit.

So when you see him or her get hit and in pain (but not enough to bring out the certified athletic trainer), take some extra time — dust off a clean plate or walk the ball out to the pitcher.

Buy that catcher a few minutes and, in turn, he or she will probably appreciate it and work even harder for you the rest of the game.

The same thing can sometimes apply to other sports when tensions get high. Take a moment to put the ball in play and use that time to give a friendly reminder as opposed to a premature penalty. When you feel the situation has had a moment to calm down, blow the whistle and get the game moving.

5. Give a LONGER LEASH to those in charge.

Maybe more important is the flip side of this rule: Those who aren’t in charge don’t get a long leash. Yes, you should listen to head coaches and managers who give their thoughts to you about a call or situation — as long as they don’t cross the line. Communication, including listening to perceived grievances, is part of game management.

But assistant coaches, players and other bench personnel should not be given the same patience or privilege. Unsportsmanlike talk and actions by those individuals need to be addressed right away. If warranted, you can give head coaches a chance to take care of other game participants. But if they don’t take care of business, you need to step up and penalize appropriately.

There has to be some form of hierarchy of tolerance. And head coaches are at the top. Use preventive officiating whenever you can and tolerate a bit more from them. Work with them until their behavior becomes a distraction.

6. Give the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT to those who have earned respect.

There will be times — probably in every game — when you get questioned on a decision you made or a penalty you called. How you respond to that question should be determined in part by how you are asked.

Think about the ranting, raving head coach. Anything that doesn’t go exactly how he or she wants, and the blame is pointed toward you or your crewmates. You are to blame for his or her team’s woes. Now think about the coach who worries about his or her team throughout the game but doesn’t get upset at you when penalties are reported. Instead, that coach focuses on “coaching” his or her players.

In a tight moment, both coaches question a call. The coach who doesn’t go ballistic on every call deserves a more thorough response than the lunatic. It is as simple as that.

Because it is so out of character for that calmer head coach to question a call, maybe he or she saw something that didn’t make sense or was done wrong by the rule. Taking the time to acknowledge the concern or clarify a ruling is time well-spent. The ranter may have seen the same thing, but doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt since that coach has been on your case about everything.

7. Look COACHES in the eye.

Police will tell you that suspects who lower or turn their heads when providing alibis are withholding information. It is difficult to obfuscate when you are looking someone right in the eye.

Whether you are introducing yourself to the coach before the game or answering his or her question during the course of play, communication should be done face to face and straight on. Even if you are delivering bad news, you will have more credibility and gain more respect by looking the coach in the eye.

Understand that advice applies only when the ball is dead, such as during a timeout or other intermission. If you need to communicate with the coach during play, keep your eyes on the action and wait for action to cease.

8. WHEN IN DOUBT, do what is expected.

An official takes on the task of applying mainly descriptive rules to fluid situations, but there are times in games when that official may not be immediately certain what action to take after observing a play or an incident. Rulebooks will spell out the intent and guiding principles of the rules and the better officials figure out how to apply them equitably, in context. But there are times when an official faces doubt at the moment he or she is expected to make a call or no-call. When that happens, it’s best to do what is expected.

Does it appear that a player sustained a possible concussion even though he or she does not have a loss of consciousness after a play? If there is any doubt, it is best to take that player out of the game to get checked. Should a baseball or softball umpire call a borderline pitch a ball or strike? It is expected that the umpire follow through by calling that pitch a strike. A basketball referee may have doubt when two players collide and go flying to the floor. Block or charge? Rule one or the other.

In any event, do not try to run away from the play or shrug your shoulders. You’ll lose credibility fast.

Officials will never be 100 percent sure of what they see 100 percent of the time. That’s not humanly possible. In those gray-area moments when a call is necessary, do what is expected and make the call or ruling with a clear conscience.

9. Answer QUESTIONS, not statements.

“That’s a bad call.” “That was a interference.” “He pushed him.”

What do all those comments have in common? Ding, ding. You’re correct if you answered, “They are statements that coaches say/yell/shout, etc.”

Coaches say a lot to officials during a game. And much of what they have to say, whether it is a valid point or not, does not need a response. Statements don’t need an answer from officials. Often the only time you need to respond to a statement is when you are delivering a warning or a penalty for one that crosses the line.

What deserves a respectful response when time permits is a legitimate question. Officials can save themselves a lot of headaches and heartburn by answering only what is asked.

10. Don’t answer the questioyou  don’t have INFORMATION about.

You don’t need to answer every question, though. That most often relates to a coach asking a question about a play called by a crewmember. If you don’t know what happened, don’t guess. If you don’t have information, tell the coach you’ll find out for him or her at halftime or suggest the coach talk to your partner. Whatever you do, make sure you are supportive of your partner.

Sometimes a coach or player may ask you about a rule or situation that you are not sure about. If you don’t have the knowledge or information you need, don’t guess at the answer. You’ll lose all credibility if you answer the question wrong. Instead, seek assistance from a partner or find out the answer after the game and get back to the coach. Then vow to study the rules more, so that you can answer that question that might come up in the future.

11. Get the game going after a MISTAKE or EJECTION.

Sure, ejections and mistakes are a big deal. But it is the responsibility of officials to make sure they don’t become a huge deal and negatively impact a game.

When your game has a situation, such as an ejection or a rule controversy, the best thing you can do is to get the next pitch thrown or the next play started. Once game action resumes, players, coaches and fans will typically worry about that action and forget about the situation that caused the problem in the first place.

While participants will be forced to move on when action resumes, officials should keep the mistake/ejection in the back of their mind. Don’t dwell on what happened but keep in mind that it could lead to future issues. Managing the game by making sure your presence is felt even more after ejections for fighting, for example, is a good way to prevent future problems.

12. CREW TALKS should lean toward official with angle or experience.

Because coverage areas sometimes overlap, there are going to be situations in which more than one official has a call. What happens when you’re the other official and those calls conflict? If you are in the role of ultimate decision-maker, which way do you go?

To begin, the officials involved must express certainty. If either indicates doubt, go with the other crewmember. “I think” is not acceptable. There is a difference between calls and opinions.

If neither backs down, consider the angle or proximity to the play. Was one official significantly closer than the other? Was one straightlined? Position and distance are key considerations.

If you’re still at an impasse, lean toward the more experienced official who has likely seen that play more often and knows how best to cover it.

13. Be 100 percent sure if makinthe UNEXPECTED CALL.

Several years ago, a baseball state championship turned on a base umpire’s call. With two out, a player whose double seemingly drove in the winning run was called out for missing first base. The run was nullified, the inning ended and that team wound up losing the title.

The coach argued, but within the bounds of sportsmanship, asking the umpire if he was certain. “I am positive,” the umpire said. “I would never make that call unless I was absolutely sure.”

Afterward, the coach acknowledged the umpire. “He’s a good umpire,” the coach said. “If he was that sure, he must have seen it.”

It’s never a good idea to enforce an arcane rule just to let everyone know that you know the book. But if it needs to be called, sell it and be prepared to back it up with confidence. The more unusual the situation, the more sure you must be.

14. Don’t insert yourself or disrupt GAME RHYTHM if it’s not necessary.

Back off. If you’re an official — no matter the sport — and you somehow don’t feel “in the game” because little if anything to rule on has occurred in your coverage area, back off. Don’t be that official with a quick whistle or flag, looking for something, any kind of violation or penalty, to make it look like you’re “in the game.” Back off. It’s better for you, the crew and the game.

Many officials think they aren’t doing their job if they don’t enforce the rules, especially if they haven’t been heard from early in a game or an extended period of time during the game. It will be an uncomfortable situation for many, but the better officials know when to stay out of the way and call only what needs to be called. Under no circumstances should an official ignore fouls that involve safety of the players, but being too quick to insert yourself when you don’t need to will result in too many flags or whistles for minor violations or for phantom violations that are better handled with preventive officiating.

Making a call or ruling can be very straightforward and easy. But withholding a flag or whistle in a situation that is close but doesn’t warrant you to stop the game takes discipline and confidence. At some point the game will need you and when it does, be ready. In the meantime, back off.

15. Let the PLAYERS help you make the call.

Generally, players are not award-winning actors. And as you go down from the professional level, to college, to high school and eventually to sub-varsity, the acting skills are dramatically worse.

One of the toughest calls to get right in baseball or softball is the high-and-tight pitch that may have hit the bat or the hand first. Read the batter’s reaction: If the batter immediately screams, “Ouch!” and drops the bat, there’s a pretty good chance it hit his or her hand. But if the batter doesn’t react as the ball rolls into fair territory, in all likelihood, it’s a fair ball. Read the reaction of the player and use that to provide you the additional information to make a correct call.

If a player hustles to save a ball from going out of bounds, even if you didn’t see which player it touched last, you have an indication of the right call.

In this age of flopping and diving, the “rule” is a little tougher, but reading players’ initial reaction to many plays will often still help you when you need it.

16. When a game is obviously over, CONCENTRATION needs to be stronger.

In most any sport, there are games that are decided early on, sometimes in the first quarter or early innings. It’s about that time when teams will start going through the motions, if they haven’t already, and that makes it easy for officials to do the same.

Thoughts of home, work, meetings or your next game can easily grab your attention instead of the game in front of you. That’s the time to increase your focus as much as possible. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by anything. Focus on the game and use it as an opportunity to improve.

A blowout situation offers officials the perfect time to work on certain mechanics or habits or to experiment.

Above all, don’t physically quit on the game. Continue to hustle even though you may have the urge to loaf. Apply personal pride, vanity or your competitive streak. Draw upon any inner strength or collection of emotions or memories to stay in the game. Do anything necessary to keep your focus and not let up.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 6/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – I’m Working With Who?

By The Referee Editors

Officiating is never boring, especially when it comes to those we officiate with. Good officials can adjust to their partners … no matter who they are.

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Partners and crewmates come in all different shapes, sizes and personalities. There are a lot of good ones out there, but then there are others who will try your patience and test your ability to officiate nice, because their “offenses” are pretty bad. You probably have or will run across all of them during your career. … Hopefully it’s not because you’re seeing one in the mirror.

In life and officiating, you can’t always choose who you work with. So you have to deal with it. Since we’ve run across our share of unique officials working games in various sports, we’ll pass along some sure-fire counterattack plans you can apply if Grouchy Greg or Clyde the Clown walks into your locker room before a game.

Dominator Dan

Dominator-Dan--This guy is part control freak, part loudmouth and part overconfident. He dominates the pregame with partners, dominates in the pregame meeting with coaches and, of course, makes every effort to insert himself and dominate in the game.

If there is a problem in the game, even if Dan is remotely a part of the problem, he will “come to the rescue” whether welcomed or not and, in his eyes, save the day. Dan’s listening, but he really isn’t. He’ll do it his way always.

Counterattack

Do what you can to get a few words in during your pregame. Even if Dan doesn’t end up really listening, it’s important to at least try to get through to him. Conduct yourself in a professional manner, even if Dan doesn’t get the concept. It’s OK to let him have control, as long as he isn’t doing anything wrong. If he does and the rules permit a correction, it’s your responsibility to step up and play superhero, whether Dan likes to share the spotlight or not.

Techie Ted

Techie-TedHe is an enthusiast who is highly proficient about the technical field and how it relates to officiating. Ted’s smart phone has all the officiating information he needs to receive assignments, view video, take tests, study and communicate with other officials and assigners. That is all great. The problem is he is on his device all the time, checking email, texting and searching the Internet. He says he’s listening during the pregame and postgame, but it’s hard to tell because the latest text message from a friend or family members has his attention as well.

Counterattack

A partner with the latest in officiating technology is a positive. Use that technology as part of your pregame, showing video or utilizing a pregame board. If you’re not using technology in your pregame, make the extra effort to engage Ted more in the discussion. It doesn’t hurt to flat out ask him to put the device away. There may be some withdrawal shaking at first, but eventually Ted will be OK, and your prep for the game will be a lot better.

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Give-Me-My-Paycheck Peter

Give-Me-My-Paycheck-PeterPay me now or pay me now, preferably in cash. In Peter’s world, there really is no good reason why a school or organization doesn’t show him the money the moment he pulls into the parking lot. And if the game administrator doesn’t have a check ready and waiting, Peter will politely joke (but not really) how it sure would be nice to have received a check on game day, then ask when he can expect to receive the check.

For Peter, getting his hands on the check is seemingly more important than the game itself. His passion for collecting checks and cash on game days often supersedes his ambition to officiate.

Counterattack

There is nothing wrong with officiating to earn money, but a passion for the game and exhibiting professionalism for those surrounding the game are also important. Asking Peter why he started officiating might help to bring him back to the love of the game that probably got him into the avocation to start with.

Sal the Slob

Sal-the-SlobYou walk into the locker room with your neatly packed roller bag. You shined your shoes twice last night. Your pants are pressed. You even took the time to iron a crease into the sleeve of your striped shirt. You’ve heard it before — perception is reality. You’re controlling the things you can control; you’re really looking the part! As you begin to unfold your meticulous uniform, your partner barrels through the door in one big dust cloud.

“Hey there, name’s Sal!” bellows your partner as he extends his mustard stained hand. Sal looks frazzled at best. His hair is a mess, his dirty shirt is partly tucked in and it’s obvious his holey and untied shoes have seen one too many Guns N’ Roses concerts. Absolutely zero attention has been paid to his unkempt appearance and it quickly becomes evident that he does not care one bit. He unzips his bag and pulls out a balled-up shirt that looks like it hasn’t been washed since opening day, three years ago.

Counterattack

We might be embarrassed working with Sal, or be embarrassed for him. Part of being a (successful) sports official means taking pride in one’s appearance. Being a good partner might mean casually speaking up in the locker room before the game. “You know Sal, I’ve learned that my shirt best stays tucked in when I tuck it in my tights.” Unfortunately, having to take the floor with Sal can give a negative first impression of the entire crew. Expect it, and plan to work that much harder to gain respect.

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Grouchy Greg

Grouchy-Greg“Can you believe they gave him the championship game this year!? I can’t believe it, it’s all soooo political! I guess I gotta kiss more butt.”

Ahh, the always-exasperated Greg has entered the building. Some people see the glass as half-full, some see it as half-empty; Greg sees the glass as all-angry. The sun may be shining outside, but it is always miserable in Greg’s world. “I don’t know about you but I can’t stand this coach, he’s a real piece of work.” Greg’s partners often aren’t exempt from his wrath either. “Why do you guys go to those clinics anyway, you don’t learn a darn thing from those knuckleheads!”

From the weather being too cold, to the game check not sitting next to the water bottle and towel as you enter the locker room, Greg will always have that negative attitude: “All right, let’s get out there and get this thing over with.” For everything wrong in Greg’s world, someone else is always to blame. Heaven forbid it is ever his own fault.

Counterattack

Kill him with kindness. For every angry and negative comment, reply with something positive. Don’t stoop to Greg’s level; that just gives him more ammunition. Nothing can wear you out quicker than the guy who is negative 24/7. Our officiating careers (and life in general) are too short to be mad all the time. Ask Greg why he officiates? If everything is so awful and bad and wrong, ask him why he continues to do it if it makes him so miserable? Maybe you’ll finally hear something positive come out of his mouth.

Just-in-Time Terry

Just-in-Time-TerryEverything is last-minute for Terry. She’s the one who shows up 15 minutes prior to a game, even though she isn’t coming from work. Because you don’t want to walk on the field without her, you are taking the field late, making coaches wonder if you are even there.

If there’s paperwork to be filed, Terry’s waiting to the last minute as well. And then when her email system is down or she can’t find a fax machine or scanner that works, it’s your fault that her form isn’t in. And you are expected to understand that the world has to work on Terry’s time — Terry is a very important and very busy person and without her, things just wouldn’t be as good.

Counterattack

As long as everyone continues to cater to Terry, then Terry will never change. Deadlines must be enforced. Late arrivals must be pointed out to assigners. And even most drastically, go to the field at the right time, and let Terry be late. You can’t let Terry drag you down.

The first time Terry doesn’t get a playoff game because she inadvertently didn’t get the test taken on time, she’ll learn the importance of meeting the deadline. And when enough partners call the assigner or report back on an evaluation that she was late to the site and isn’t doing a proper pregame, it will start to hurt her schedule.

Everyone runs late every once in a while. But if Terry’s always behind and always pushing things to the very last minute, it’s going to look very bad for her eventually. Be proactive and don’t let Terry dictate your schedule or the way you do things.

Captain Obvious Orv

Captain-Obvious-OrvOrv oversells everything and must be seen doing it. The over-the-shoulder out pump when the play wasn’t close. The dramatic long whistle followed by the over-exuberant touchdown signal when everyone knows it was a score. Or the screaming of “FOUL BALL!” when it flies quickly over the fence behind the plate and into the parking lot.

Orv makes it a point of explaining even the most basic calls to players, coaches and even fans. He wants to make sure everyone knows that he knows what he knows and that he saw what he saw. Of course, then when Orv has to really sell a call, his credibility is in question because he can’t do anything more dramatic than he did for the super obvious calls.

Counterattack

Find someone that Orv looks up to and get that person to mentor Orv. Have Orv watch how officials at the higher levels and respected officials at his level use other techniques to command a game. Orv is probably a pretty good official who just hasn’t been shown or doesn’t realize the harm he is doing to himself by overselling the obvious calls.

Big-timer Bob

Big-Timer-BobBob isn’t shy about relating his experiences to people, selling himself based on the levels he’s worked, not his actual ability. In a meeting of high school officials, he’s not afraid to tell people, “This is how I do it when I work a college game.” Or, “This is how we did it when I worked with that professional official.”

Bob is also known to cite the experiences of his friends. “My buddy Larry told me that his crew in the college conference does it this way.”

Bob thinks the levels he’s worked means that he should get automatic respect at the lower levels and that his ways are always the best.

Counterattack

Put Bob in his place. Respectfully stand up to him and let him know that what is important is how we do it at our level and the proper rules, mechanics and philosophies for our level.

If your association has too many Bobs, it can fracture the association. People will want to do it Bob’s way, or worse yet, will want to adopt their own “higher level” mechanics. Soon, there will be no consistency in the way games in your association are called.

Long-for-the-Good-Ol’-Days Larry

Long-for-the-Good-Ol-Days-LarryRemember when gas was 50 cents a gallon? When a portable communication device was two tin cans and a length of string? When the games lasted only an hour and 15 minutes and the coaches never complained about the calls?

Larry does, and he reminds you over and over. And over.

He not only regales you with tales of how games used to be officiated, he actually employs those outdated mechanics and philosophies. Rulebooks? He don’t need no stinkin’ rulebooks! One of his favorite questions is, “When did they change that rule?”

Counterattack

For heaven’s sake, don’t enable Larry by asking him to elaborate on any of his stories. If he’s holding court before you hit the court, try to bring him back to the here and now by getting him involved in the pregame discussion. If it’s halftime or after the game, direct the conversation to situations that occurred today.

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Clyde the Clown

Clyde-the-ClownAs you watch both teams warm up, you can’t help but notice your partner Clyde down by the baseline. What the heck is he doing? Clyde is going through an elaborate (and very attention seeking) stretching routine. All of his jumps, twists and turns would make any yoga instructor proud. You shake your head as Clyde yuks it up with players and fans alike. Once the game starts, Clyde’s act doesn’t stop. His foul calls are theatrical and any time he blows his whistle you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next. Give this guy a red nose and some oversized shoes and you’ve got a real-life clown on your hands.

Working with Clyde can start out as comical and lighthearted, but it can quickly become too much. Clyde is often someone that’s been around awhile — and he has a reputation. Fans laugh at him, coaches tolerate him and partners shake their heads.   

Counterattack

When you work with Clyde, it’s best to stick to your game. Don’t change the way you officiate because you’re working with an amateur comedian. Go out and work hard like you always do. Clyde’s antics will eventually catch up with him. You should enjoy officiating, but don’t become a sideshow; just stay focused on the task at hand.

Invisible Ike

Invisible-IkeIke shows up for the game on time, looks the part of a solid official and says all the right things in the pregame. You have confidence going into a contest with him, but when it’s game time and the pressure is on, Ike is nowhere to be found. Where’s Ike?

When there is a crash and a call could go either way, but there should be something, Ike will often no-call it. When a coach is bashing you from the other side of the field or court right in front of Ike, you won’t be able to count on him for backing or for penalties. Ike likes to get through a game with as little controversy as possible by making as few decisions as possible. Ike follows the wrong thinking that “the best officiated games are the ones in which you don’t know the officials are there.”

Counterattack

Ike is a dangerous partner to deal with because he often won’t have your back. Plan on having to step up more during a game. You don’t want to overstep your coverage responsibilities, but at times, you may have to if it’s warranted. Encourage Ike to step up when it’s needed. Go over the importance of having a presence at halftime or after the game. The best officiating games are the ones that are actually officiated. Lead by example and call what needs to be called.

Im-Working-With-Who-Quote

Wanna-Be Willy

Wanna-Be-WillyMany are called to officiating. Few are chosen for the upper levels. Willy isn’t one of them, but that doesn’t stop him from dressing or acting the part.

To Willy, the approved signals and mechanics aren’t nearly as good as the ones the pros or college officials use. So he goes off the book and does it like the “big boys” do. The manual says white or blue beanbags. But Willy sports the black version used by college officials because he wants to draw attention to himself. The state has a “clean shirt” policy. Willy wears numbers on his sleeve so people will think he’s taking a busman’s holiday from the semi-pro league to work the youth contest.

Counterattack

When Willy is on your crew, let him know in advance he needs to bring the proper uniform and equipment, and that his nonsense will not be tolerated. Bring some extra equipment in case he “forgets,” so the crew can go out looking proper.

Fake-Hustle Harry

Fake-Hustle-HarryMaybe instead of Harry, we should call him Hurry or Harried. That’s because this guy moves like Jell-O in an earthquake. Problem is, all that energy is expended whether or not he’s covering plays. Someone watching Harry gets exhausted as he sprints to his between-innings spot in the outfield after the third out is made, flies from the goalline to his position on a kickoff (never bothering to slow down or stop to clean up the sideline along the way) or imitates Usain Bolt while doing the dreaded (and incorrect) long switch.

Counterattack

Not every Harry understands subtlety, so you may have to (figuratively) hit them over the head when you explain that he is hustling at the wrong times. False hustle is like yelling: If you do it all the time, people won’t be able to tell when you mean it. Harry needs to understand that.

Lackadaisical Len

Lackadaisical-LenThis character is cool as a cucumber when the heat is on. Or off. Also during the pregame. In fact, sometimes you want to shake him to make sure he’s still awake. Nothing fazes Len. He’s happy to let his partner or crewmates handle anything that may come up during the game. He just wants his check and a quick finish so he can get on with his life.

Counterattack

The remedy would seem to be a swift kick in the slats, but even if it weren’t wrong, it wouldn’t help anyway. Asking Len questions or soliciting his advice will get him involved in the pregame. Engaging him in quick conversations (“How’s my strike zone?” “Did you get a look at the block in the back I called during that kickoff return?” “Is it time for me to give a red card to number 10 if she pops off again?”) when appropriate during breaks in the action may light his fire.

Cocky Carl

Cocky-CarlConfidence in your officiating abilities is important, but Carl goes beyond confidence. If he is your partner, expect to hear about a great call or two or three that he made in previous games. Expect to hear that the game ahead should be no problem. And with all that talking, expect that having a proper pregame may be difficult. If fact, Carl may not think it is necessary. Many games at the high school level may actually be beneath him. So going through the motions with little focus or energy is something you will regularly see.

You might be a decent official, but Carl will likely know more than you and you can expect to hear his expertise offered in full following the game. There is no need to repay the critique, though. Carl won’t think it’s necessary.

Counterattack

Fight cockiness with humbleness and patience. There are some who can and should put Carl in his place (supervisors, coordinators, etc.), but you don’t need to be one of them. Try to do the right thing by pushing for a pregame and listening to Carl’s advice after the game. Present yourself in a friendly way to coaches and players, so the cockiness that Carl exudes is not reflective of the whole crew. Work hard no matter what the level or score, because Carl likely won’t.

Sam the Schmooze

Sam-the-SchmoozeCoaches, players, supervisors, officials, you name it, Sam will schmooze them. He knows the coaches’ names and nicknames, and probably even their kids’ names. Sam has the gift of gab and he’s not afraid to use it to further himself in a game or his career. Unfortunately the schmoozing doesn’t endear Sam to his fellow officials, because they can see right through it. By chatting up the coaches or complimenting the players after good plays, Sam often presents the crew in a bad light. While he’s an equal-opportunity schmoozer, a particular team often doesn’t see it that way and the objectivity of the officials can be called into question.

Counterattack

Sam is mostly harmless. If you’re his partner or crewmate, you just need to keep an eye on him and stress the importance of not talking to players and coaches too much during a contest. Sam should have a short leash. If you’re the one he’s complimenting, understand the source and don’t let your head get too big.

Gotta-Go Gabby

Gotta-Go-GabbyThere are very few postgame meetings that Gabby can’t weasel her way out of. She can’t stick around, because she has to go to a wedding or a funeral or her husband’s birthday dinner, etc. … You get the idea. Gabby likes officiating games, she likes working with the kids, exercising and getting her paychecks, but getting better is not all that important to her and it shows.

Counterattack

If Gabby is on your regular crew, make the postgame meetings mandatory. No excuses. If you just happen to have Gabby as your partner once in a while, it might be tough to counter the excuses. The best you may be able to do is try to talk her into at least a short postgame. Whether your partner stays or not, you should at least mentally review your game or watch video later, if available. Make sure improvement is important to you.

Maybe some of your partners look pretty good right now. … Or maybe not. At least you’re armed with some sure-fire ways to handle the bad ones.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 8/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Jan. 2015 Officiating In Perspective with Barry Mano

This is Just My Opinion

Drawn from his Publisher’s Memo in the January 2015 issue of Referee magazine, Barry Mano discusses on-air and online commentators weighing in on rules and officiating — and the importance of separating fact from opinion.

This is Just My Opinion

Referee | January 2015 | Publisher’s Memo

Dale Scott Feature

The October 2014 issue of Referee featured MLB umpire Dale Scott. On December 2, 2014, Outsports.com also profiled Scott, which heavily referenced Referee’s October issue. Below is a link to the original Referee feature and a link to the current Outsports.com feature:

Download Sale Scott Feature from Referee Magazine (.PDF)

Football – Oh, S—!

How do coaches perceive you? A former NFL referee asks the question in a most colorful way.

Oh,-S---!

By Jeffrey Stern
Referee senior editor

I’m guessing you can fill in the blanks in the title of this column. If you haven’t used the word even once in your life, I feel confident that you’ve at least heard it a time or two.

The title is part of a mantra Red Cashion, the great former NFL referee, told me once a long time ago. Red said, “You want to be a ‘Thank God’ official, not an “Oh, s —“ official.

Red was referring the reaction coaches have when you walk on the field before the game. You hope they feel confident in your abilities, that you’ll hustle, get the judgment calls correct and enforce penalties properly. So when you walk on the field, the coaches say aloud or to themselves, “Thank God I have this crew tonight.”

Coaches being coaches, you can do all of the things mentioned above and they will still have the feeling, “Oh, s —! Them again!” Likely something happened the last time you had that team and the coach can’t separate the crew from the fact that his fullback fumbled on the opponent’s one yardline, his star wideout dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone or the opposing kicker nailed a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the game. None of which is your fault, of course, but there is that connection.

Once you get labeled as an “Oh s —“ crew it’s hard to shake that tag. I’ve worked for coaches who felt they got jobbed by us 20 years ago. And maybe we did screw up that one time. We’ve had them every year since without incident, but the coach just can’t shake the memories of that one game.

Sadly you can go from a “Thank God” crew to an “Oh, s—“ crew in the wink of an eye. But the opposite is a tougher task.

The way you don’t want to become a “Thank God” crew is bad-mouthing another one. I’ve heard about coaches saying to an official, “I know we’re going to get a fair shake from you tonight. Not like last week.” When the official asks to whom he is referring, the coach only too happily coughs up the name of the previous crew. To which the official replies, “Oh, yeah. They’re awful. You’ve got the A-team tonight.”

Way to go, genius. You just fell into the trap. First of all, do you know for sure the coach really got screwed the week before? Or is he trying to curry favor tonight? Secondly, if he says that about another crew, do you honestly think he’d hesitate to tell next week’s crew the same about you? Right or wrong? Heck, maybe he says that to every crew.

If you are assigned to a team you’ve never had before, you have a golden opportunity to make the great first impression everyone talks about. Get in there, bust your butt and maybe you’ll find yourself on that coach’s preferred list. At least you’ll stay off his, umm, you-know-what list.

Referee Magazine(This column stemmed from an interview published in the February 2014 MyReferee issue of Referee Magazine.)

How to Give Accurate Evaluations

You’ve been asked to evaluate a fellow official and have been given an evaluator’s checklist. In many instances checklists offer only a limited perspective on how officials perform. The trouble is that listed characteristics are often too general and don’t reveal specific officiating actions in a contest. There are specific things you can do to improve your evaluating.

Use descriptions. An evaluation or observation report must describe, and doing that requires more than a traditional number system, which can be rather vague. Descriptions should be done in neutral phrasing, using non-opinionated terminology and avoiding critical remarks as much as possible. When officiating judgments are part of the picture, the description should be couched in tentative terms, such as, “You appeared to call strikes on pitches that may have been high in the strike zones of shorter hitters.” (Using you means that the evaluation report will be produced for the official as well as an administrative entity.)

Keep score. An observer can itemize behavior by making a tally of the way an official operated. If you’re in a good position to evaluate strike calls, say directly behind home plate, you can “keep score” by tracking pitches that either seem accurately called or else seem off the mark. Charting would also reveal patterns of an umpire’s judgment: missing low pitches, expanding the strike zone beyond the outside corner and so on.

Charting can be done in other sports as well. Keep track of how many times a football wing official adopted a progress spot on running plays by moving downfield parallel to the play and pivoting at a 90-degree angle to identify a dead-ball spot. In basketball, record how often a referee got caught trailing a fast break by several yards. Signals can also be described.

If isolated behavior needs recording, that can be done in narrative language: “With two minutes left in the first quarter, the referee and umpire conferred for 38 seconds before administering a penalty for holding.”

Give positive reinforcement. At upper levels of officiating, observers often try to record many more positive behaviors than negative ones. Part of objective evaluating is to reinforce correct officiating. With narrative descriptions, you can explain how an official appears to adopt the correct positioning before play, how he or she moves according to action and if the official seems to be looking in the proper places to execute judgments.

Share it. Should you share an evaluation with the person being observed? If you don’t, there’s little hope for improvement. Plus, a secret evaluation will likely be resented. Sharing a summary of patterns allows the official to reflect on the observations, moving the recipient to counter the perceptions or accept the evaluation as a positive stimulus for change.

Written by Jerry Grunska, a retired educator who lives in Evergreen, Colo. He officiated football for more than 40 years. This column originally appeared in the 11/04 issue of Referee.

Copyright© Referee Enterprises, Inc.
This article is copyrighted by Referee Enterprises, Inc. (REI), and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from REI. It is available online as an educational tool for individuals. Visit us at www.referee.com.

Practice Proper Preparation

Your game assignment actually begins well in advance of game day. Here is a list of important things to do as the assignment approaches:

Verify the assignment. At the very least, call the school within a week or so of the game. Talk to the person (usually the athletic director) who catches the heat if the officials don’t show. Don’t just leave a voice mail that says you’re coming because you can’t be sure what a lack of response means.

Confirm the time and location of the game and any special conditions that will exist. If you can, exchange cell phone numbers with the game manager, so you can inform each other of any last-minute problems all the way up to game time.

Firm up your travel arrangements. My football crew makes up a spreadsheet that includes the driver, the meeting point, who will provide the snacks and so on. Then I confirm each week’s plan as one of the last things we do before we part company after the previous game. The good crew chief also insists that the whole crew has each other’s cell phone numbers.

Check your equipment. Never trust anyone else to pack your gear for you. Check everything in your bag well ahead of time in case something needs mending or cleaning. A good approach, if somebody besides you washes your uniform, is to have the person return it fresh from the dryer so you can check, fold and account for it going into your bag yourself.

Do some homework. Opinions vary on how much you should find out about the teams before the game. You owe it to them and yourself to have at least some idea of how competitive and skillful it will be, plus what’s on the line for each team. Conversely, you don’t want to have so thick a book on the teams that you anticipate things that don’t actually occur.

Check the weather on game day. If a monsoon or blizzard is in the forecast, consider padding your travel plans. Remember that one person’s short sleeve weather is another person’s visit to the South Pole. Get to the crew ahead of time to agree on dress and an updated travel plan well in advance.

Physically prepare. Each person has his or her own standard for sleep and food intake before a game. The best plan is to stick to it. Don’t experiment the night before the championship game, especially when you travel to a place where the water or menu is likely to be different from what you’re used to.

Adjust your workout routine and preparation as the season progresses. Watch for the signs of feeling stiffer and less flexible that come when you’re working too much. Allow yourself more recovery time. It’s easier to stay in shape than get back in shape with each passing year.

In all your preparations for an assignment, bear in mind a sure way to ruin a reputation is to miss an assignment in a way that was avoidable. Never assume details. Look after yourself and you’ll be a long way toward being the type of official who keeps getting invited back.

Tim Sloan, Bettendorf, Iowa, is a former football and soccer college official who now works high school football, basketball and volleyball.

Copyright© Referee Enterprises, Inc.
This article is copyrighted by Referee Enterprises, Inc. (REI), and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from REI. It is available online as an educational tool for individuals. Visit us at www.referee.com.

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